If you’re lucky enough to be in the mountains, you’re lucky enough!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Cue Winter

What a difference a week makes...  If you recall, last weekend we basked in mid-70's temperatures at the tail end of a very extended Rocky Mountain Indian summer.  Hopefully, the playful nature of Tuesday night's post was not lost by most - after all, there is a pricetag for living in one of the most awesome trail running areas in the country ;-)  Banter aside, Tuesday night's snow storm brought reality back into focus as our average temperatures the remainder of the week ranged a full 40 degrees lower than last week.  Of course, given the length of time that we are potentially subject to these harsh weather swings, this by no means signals the end of trail running season!  From this point, you sometimes have to pick and choose the window of opportunity for running well - or suffer out in the weather.
At least it's sunny!

Saturday was an odd day for us - a bit out of sorts and not overly motivated to run.  It is always that second weekend of time change that gets you - maybe even a little seasonal mood swing hitting.  So we decided to run from home in case we wanted to bail early.  Actually, Ute Valley Park was a good choice because the wind had some serious bite to it and the park offers some decent shelter once you are off the ridges.  At a whopping 34 degrees, it was a quick immersion back into growing the thick "winter-skin"!  Fortunately, the strong sun over the past days had mostly cleared the snow other than in the shaded or north-facing areas, leaving the trails all-clear.
Long shadows of winter across the trail
Brilliant blues today

It was oddly quiet in the park - guessing the shell shock of weather and time change hit everyone.  Usually if you drive to the park (we don't), there is a fat chance of finding a spot after 9 am - by the time we finished there were a mere handful of cars in the lot.  Strangely enough, the forecast was a serious deterioration of weather as the day wore on, so we expected early traffic to beat the crud.  Fortunately for us, we were mostly unaccompanied on our run.  It was good we headed out, as we were able to mostly run out the funk that had us second guessing a run earlier in the morning - that always helps!
Posing at the arch
Looking up to the rim
Some new stash

We spotted some newer trails that we have not explored while up on the middle ridge, so we made the visual link and headed out to find them.  Sure enough, some tight and twisty singletrack gained a bluff then dropped into a drainage far below the west rim of the park.  After weaving through gamble oaks for a bit, the trail snaked along the small creek that runs down through the park.  There are probably a couple extra miles of singletrack down in this little pocket and it will add some freshness to our routes - nice!
Pikes Peak
Magic?  Who is on camera?

We wound up running some nice loops and had a much better run than anticipated.  The first cold runs always drain a bit more from the tank than anticipated yet the run felt mostly fluid and unforced, always a good thing.  Kathleen peeled off just a short time before me - she ended up running 12 miles and I did 14, so it was quite a nice little jaunt especially considering the technical difficulty of running in Ute Valley.  Once again, this is why we rarely ever bag a run.  Unless we feel some sick coming on, it almost always works out that the run helps push through the foggy feeling that is tempting us to stay home.

Shoes - K Asics 2150 Trail
S Pearl Izumi SyncroFuel XC

Kathleen enjoying the Falcon Trail

While forecast highs for Sunday were suspected to approach 40, we know better than to assume the best when heading out for a run.  We decided to head for the US Air Force Academy and run the Falcon Trail.  Nothing in the morning hours was leading us to believe anything approaching 40 was an option, but we still dressed a little lighter than we might have normally.  The gamble left us a bit on the cold side a few times, but it takes a few wardrobe malfunctions early in the cold season to nail selection of apparel down to a science.  Run and learn...
First crossing of Monument Creek
Kathleen concentrates on the singletrack

While still on the first half of the loop, before starting up toward the long climb to Stanley Canyon, we began "losing contact" with the sun for longer stretches than we had hoped for, thereby bringing on some cold temperatures in the lower drainages.  For those who don't run frequently here in winter - the sun is your friend.  Our high UV - a result of being 6800 feet closer to the sun - creates a false sense of warmth even when the mercury is in the low 30's as it was today.  However, lose that sunshine mid-run and things get a little nippy!  Once again, this was more than likely the reason we had few trail encounters today.  We saw 5 or 6 mountain bikers and 4 or 5 runners.  You might see that many in 2 miles in the summer or fall...
Love this trail
Cool and dark on the back side

I thought the scene above captured the coolness on the backside below Stanley.  Parts of the creek were frozen already and the conifers were still holding a bit of of snow 4 days removed from our storm.  Surprisingly, we were running pretty well through here and made a nice ascent on the longest climb of the loop.  Kathleen even is starting to see a little spark return on the extended climbs.  This is good.
Attempting to harness some rays on the climb
Switchbacks down to the snow lined trail
Keeping a move-on and staying warm

The long ridge above the reservoirs and the golf course left us exposed to the wind and a bit chilled.  We were really looking forward to the long runout to the trailhead - some nice leg turnover to get a little warmth back.  We were quite astounded to see some hearty souls out on the links - solid contact with the ball at 34 degrees has to sting a wee bit!   The first bits of snowpacked trail were already forming on the north facing switchbacks off the ridge - traffic and lack of sun will mostly mean these are here to stay until April.  Aside from those short stretches, this loop is in fantastic shape.  With any luck, maybe a Thanksgiving weekend run is in store here....
Cadet area and the beautiful chapel

All that was left of the blue sky for the day was far north on the horizon - it made a nice frame for a shot of the chapel from the trail.  We will have to get up closer one of these runs for some good shots for those who have never seen it - quite an amazing chapel and stunning aluminum architecture.  We had a great run, stayed warm enough to enjoy ourselves, and got Kathleen her longest run pain-free in 3 months.  SWEET!  We're pretty confident that she has pulled through the worst of the symptoms but are still being ever so slightly cautious - no need for a relapse...  13 miles for the day.
Shoes - K Asics Trabuco
S Pearl Izumi SyncroFuel XC

A little ultrarunning news for those so inclined - check out Tim's page for some early details on an intensive ultrarunning camp in the planning for those looking to run some longer races, especially at altitude.  Have a look - you might want to get in on what promises to be an awesome training camp!
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